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Paying lip-service to the old ways

Alongside Jimmy Tarbuck's enduring appeal, ventriloquism must surely rank among comedy's greatest mysteries. What is funny about shoving your hand up a dummy and making it talk while desperately trying not to move your own lips? True, the genre hasn't always been well represented - take the lip-quivering Keith Harris and Orville, Ray Allen and Lord Charles and of course Opportunity Knocks' winner, Roger de Courcy with Nookie the bear.

But just as Bob Monkhouse has been enjoying a new lease of life recently, could ventriloquism update its image for the Nineties? Quite possibly, if tonight's intriguing Distant Voices, Still Lips (8pm C4) is any indication of the shape of things to come.

The programme charts the fortunes of Scarlet Watt, Britain's only West Indian ventriloquist, who together with his other half, a dummy called Max, is in constant demand on the northern comedy circuit. Watt is shown topping the bill at a working men's club in Kent, the performance interspersed with glimpses of his house in Luton where the living room has become a ventriloquist's shrine.

But despite his success, Watt is clearly mindful of the fate of some of his predecessors. "You can't get big-headed in this business," he insists. "You're only as good as the last show. You can go out on a Monday night and storm 'em; Tuesday night you can hear your footsteps as you walk off."